Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap of Faith: French Bread

You too can make this at home

There is a first challenge that one executes to the best of their ability and in doing so, improves. I have always preferred to those kinds of recipes that we can take elements from, transform, be inspired by, interpret and leap from, freely. I have put effort into research for recipes from the regions and always respect a classic recipe when its the first time I follow it, but I've also come to a certain pleasure in not using a recipe at all, or just being inspired by one.

Baking involves following the rules, all the time. Every time I've been tempted to stray while baking, I ended up with a big mess on my hands. For a time, I convinced myself that baking was fussy. But I think that was a defense mechanism. To give me an excuse for the failed birthday cakes. I have got to get over it. In embarking on these challenges with the Daring Bakers, I face the truth and seek to master a certain fear.

Everyone must face the fear of failure, and push through it in order to grow. In many ways, life happiness depends on our ability to push through it. Pastry is a vocation that actually serves the perfectionist well. If you learn the specific properties of the materials you are working with, how they react to heat and cold, and if you respect them, you can do great things with pastry. If you embrace the rules of the game and spend the time to follow recipes, you still end up victorious. If you can't, you go to the corner bakery or the grocery store and purchase your pastry.

Loic proposed marriage to me on July 3, 1999. I responded yes, with a condition. That he go to America and live as a foreigner for one year before we made the move to France. There had been some talk, I had an inkling that it might not be easy. I had lived in foreign countries before. The difference this time was that I had never moved to a foreign country to live there for the rest of my life. Expats and immigrants have different experiences. I had this idea that any culture shock I endured in France might resonate more deeply this time. I wanted him to understand. So we worked it out, and he chose the city in America, as agreed, where he could experience life together with him as a foreigner, just in case he needed to understand what it was like, you know. He got a post in a research team at UCLA and we made the move.

The first thing I realized once we got him to the States was that it wasn't going to be easy for him. Being in Los Angeles was particularly hard. Some people spend a great deal of time trying to recreate what they left behind. A kind of obsession began to develop on what he was missing and we used that as a springboard for exploring various nooks and crannies in the sprawl of the City of Angels. Pretty much all of our time outside of work was spent trying to fulfill a need for food in the French spirit of things, which was o.k. by me. We got to know the French bakery on Westwood Boulevard. There was a lot of footwork and scheduling involved in getting fresh bread. The more we sought some kind of regular existence, the more Loic realized that our constant long periods trapped in traffic across the expanse of Los Angeles in the course of food seeking missions could not be sustained. (The French feel claustrophobic in cars, not good in L.A.)

He came home to our studio with loft across from the UCLA campus, the one with the dingy whisper of spillover frat parties past and a strong undertone of carpet cleaner that never went away, with a book, in French. It was one that explained the science of bread. The thing he missed the most was the bread. He simply could not make do with what we had available then. At the time, I had spent some time studying in Paris, but not long enough to develop a corporal need for fresh daily bread. Since the air, the water, schedules and budgets could not provide, he began to make his own bread at home.

He kept a large lab book within which he silently noted all of his experiments. He raised levain in a white jar we got at the dollar store, that he kept on top of the refrigerator, carefully tended to and observed. He spent time executing different loaf making techniques. He rolled out of bed before dawn every day to form the loaves and we had hot bread with coffee before I donned my pantyhose, put on my suits and hit the traffic on the 405 in my dinged up 1990 silver Toyota Corolla to bring home some bacon.

Honestly, I had no involvement in the bread making at all back then. None. I wasn't even interested in it. You had to get up too early. He was the man and he made the bread with a book in French. I just ate it in the mornings and loved him. He never even talked about it. We eventually came to France and embraced the boulangerie tradition, by choosing our bakery and proclaiming our fidelity to the one we loved the best. I didn't love Loic any less when he stopped making bread, of course.

In a flash in my mind's eye, I have something that seems like a memory but I know hasn't happened yet. Simple living in a small town somewhere in New York. Maybe in a college town, with lots of books, dark wood, deep snow outside. And French bread baking. It's just an illusion. Just a composition of memories and hopeful emotions tinged with the remorse that comes with missing family. We do have vacations there from time to time. We may be in the need for French bread here and again. This task is quite important to learn, then.

The Daring Baker's Challenge recipe this month was to follow exactly from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II, pages 57-74, her recipe for French Bread. You can do this at home. Don't be afraid. It is really quite liberating. This challenge was hosted by Sara at i like to cook and breadchick at The Sourdough. To see the results from my fellow Daring Bakers, click here.

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Blogger Kitt said...

Wow. Magnifique! And a lovely post.

7:10 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Helene said...

Rillettes et saucisson? c'est une tuerie ton pain!! Quelles merveilles tes baguettes!

7:50 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Molly Loves Paris said...

Your bread looks fabulous, but your pictures are even more fabulous. You are an inspiration!

8:16 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Big Boys Oven said...

Gosh this is remarkable! So dedicated and so beautiful!

8:50 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Katie said...

Your bread looks wonderful. I love how you ahve got the slashing effect so perfect.

9:10 AM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yum! Your French Bread looks lovely! I'd love to join you in devouring it! :)

9:18 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger zorra said...

Wow, so nice pics. Can I join you at your table! :-)

9:30 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Chibog in Chief said...

beautiful!!im really speechless with your french bread!! magnificent job for this month's challenge!!

10:16 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger ostwestwind said...

Oh, I am jealous about you couche, which made such great French Breads.

Your's look perfect"

Ulrike from Küchenlatein

10:24 AM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Katia Mangham said...

Wow- the bread looks amazing. Great blog too!

2:11 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Faery said...

Not only the bread is beautiful but also the satep by step pics everything is beautiful

3:27 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger GingerbreadGirl03 said...

Amazing exposition of the recipe!!!
I like the photo and the step by step
who you have made!

I didn't visit your Beautiful blog, it've stun me!

See you soon,
Ginger ~♥

P.s. But How do you had make it?

3:50 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger dailydelicious said...

I love your story and I love your pictures. I will come around more often, your blog is beautiful, too.

4:05 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my God, your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Don't get me started on the yummy crunchy looking bread. Authentic french touch! Well done you!

4:14 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Dawn0fTime said...

What gorgeous photography! That first photo looks like it could be the cover of Gourmet magazine!

4:27 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Anne Coleman said...

Perfect! You've been here all this time and I had no idea...I'll be back.

4:30 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Barbara Bakes said...

Wow! I'm impressed. Great pictures! Great story! Great bread! Thanks for sharing.

4:36 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lucy! Your loaves look perfect ;)

4:38 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Brilynn said...

What a great story to accompany some lovely looking bread!

5:12 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Lucy for the wonderful story! i used to bake french bread and it's been years since I've done it and now I'm inspired to get baking!

5:18 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger cookworm said...

Such beautiful loaves and photos! I could take a bite of that lovely bread right now! Your other posts are gorgeous, too.

5:36 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Michelle said...

I love the way you told a story with both pictures and words. Your bread looks amazing and I wish I could have some right now.

Great Job!

5:41 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Sakya said...

De toute beauté tes pains!!! quel beau blog tu as remplie de magnifiques photos et si bien expliqué
Je vais revenir te visiter

5:42 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Andrea said...

Your story and photos make a beautiful homage to good fresh bread. I loved it.

5:50 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Cakespy said...

I loved reading your story--like your bread, so much love and history! A perfect celebration of the simple but so-important aspects of life. And, naturally, Gorgeous Loaves.

5:57 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing story and your loaves look fabulous!

6:03 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Ilva said...

a lovely post and gorgeous photos, not to speak about the bread!

6:05 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Judy said...

Oh, how I wish I had seen your step-by-step photographs before doing my bread. They would have been very helpful. Your bread looks gorgeous.

6:29 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Jerry said...

Beautiful bread!

6:31 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Lucy, Such beautiful bread! Lush and crusty looking. And what a lovely blog too.
I attended a bread course only yesterday by Richard Bertinet. To say the least it was excellent. He spent about 20 minutes explaining why bread is everything to the French. Your poor husband! But I think he must be pretty wonderful to learn to bake what he missed so dearly.
Thank you for your flattering comments on my blog. Cheers!

7:19 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Colette said...

Wow. Your bread is gorgeous! Such a lovely post, too. And the photography is amazing!

8:59 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Namratha said...

The baguettes are PERFECT!! Good job!!! :)

9:15 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Laurie said...

The baguettes are golden to perfection!
You have a gorgeous blog, I'm glad I stopped by. :)

9:25 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those Baguettes looks perfect! Well done!

9:45 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank you for sharing such a lovely story. Your bread as well as your photos are simply beautiful!

10:21 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Katy said...

WOW! Those look just perfect!

10:26 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Sandicita said...

Your loaves look fantastic! You have such beautiful pictures too.

10:43 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful bread and a lovely story!

10:43 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Janet said...

I am just so impressed with everything here. Your blog (writing, layout, images) is a work of art.

Really fantastic! Thank you.

Janet of Bake Through (fellow DBer)

10:43 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wonderful looking loaves! You did a great job here! I love your brilliant pictures...



11:12 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger PheMom said...

Absolutely beautiful and I loved all of your pictures. I ended up making the round loaves because I got intimidated during shaping. I will definatley be back to see how you did it when I try the recipe again! Your blog is beautiful (I am having a total blog envy fit right now!). Love it!

11:25 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

What a great story, and your pictures are beautiful.!

11:41 PM, February 29, 2008  
Blogger Nora B. said...

A wonderful post, and lovely bread. Love that last photo. Well done with the bread making, I hope that Loic was suitably impressed.

12:04 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger glamah16 said...

I'm blown away by the post, the blog, the bread.My first visit and I will be back!

12:52 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Karen Baking Soda said...

Grand story, grand baguettes! (Can I say I love the use of potatoes?)

1:01 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Joy said...

Beautiful bread and a beautiful story. I am going to have to teach my boyfriend how to make this bread so that I too can rise to the smell of French bread baking. That or I'm moving to France!

1:56 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger kellypea said...

I spend quite a bit of time cooking and writing. I love both, and this fact leads me to search relentlessly for others who do the same. This story, your site, the writing is like a breath of fresh air. Quite enjoyable...and the bread is outstanding, of course!

2:24 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Half Baked said...

Gorgeous post as well as bread! Love your photos as well!

2:36 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Lesley said...

Beautiful, I love your photos! And the rillettes, saucisson and olives are making me droooool.

3:10 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Anne said...

It was a pleasure reading your post and your pictures are simply amazing! You did a wonderful job on your french bread...they are simply perfect :)

3:21 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Gretchen Noelle said...

Beautiful photos, wonderful writing. I think I am really going to like your blog! Congratulations on becoming a daring baker!

4:00 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Nemmie said...

Great story, and beautiful bread! Excellent job Lucy!

4:09 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Proud Italian Cook said...

Lucy, Thank you so much for leading me to your blog! I loved all your stories and beautiful photo's. I'll be back, for sure!!

4:31 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger test it comm said...

Great looking bread and photos. I like the step by step photos. I can actually tell what all of the folding instructions in the recipe were actually asking for. :)

4:32 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Gigi said...

Stunning! I loved all the photos. The baguettes are picture perfect.

4:49 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger pixie said...

i loved reading your blog. it was so personal unfolding both your life and your bread! excellent!

5:08 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Gabi said...

A very enjoyable post to read and may I also say what a beautiful blog in style and presentation you have?! Your bread is gorgeous and I am coveting your couche- I used plain canvas. Glad to see you on this challenge!
x x x

5:13 AM, March 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Lucy, your pictures are beautiful! I ended up not posting any of my pictures of the "process" since I always seemed to make the dough look like a grayish blob, but yours are fantastic.

6:44 AM, March 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

je suis ravie de découvrir ton blog via ce challenge !
Tu racontes merveilleusement bien ta vécu à cette période, et tes photos sont vraiment formidables.
Ton pain est très très très réussi ! Bravo !!!!!

9:13 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

THANK YOU ALL for all the nice comments! WOW!

Ulriche and Gabi, I decided to pick up a nice heavy piece of canvas, and at checkout they had the trim on sale. I sat and thought about making the bread and bread in general that evening while I sewed on the trim. I had never seen a "baking canvas" before but I imagined it might look like that.

Thanks everyone, I never had so many comments before! Wow!

9:13 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Annemarie said...

Lovely loaves, and what a great series of pictures to accompany your post. I hope you were able to enjoy your bread as if it really had come from a boulangerie.

10:35 AM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Suzana said...

Wow! I'm drooling at your fantastic photos! Beautiful bread and so nicely photographed! Great job.

1:08 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger myriam said...

greeeeat job! loving the pic! makes me hungry...

2:05 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Tarah at Genesis of a Cook said...

Beautiful! Looks beautiful! And wonderful photos. Lovely.

2:43 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

;) so I left my last comment on the wrong post!
But I'm happy now to add I loved your bread board and your canvas. I had a lovely story made up that it was your grandmother's ;)) now I see you made it!

2:45 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

My sister gave me the board a couple of years ago. I use it all the time!

3:03 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Megan said...

Your pictures are priceless. How I wish I had seen them before I baked bread. I made mine roung because it seemed easier. Does that make me any less of a Daring Baker? LOL

4:15 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Melanie said...

Your photos of the bread/process are fascinating! Definitely some of the best I've seen. Beautiful.

4:38 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Mer said...

Wow! Your pictures are truly art.

Thanks for sharing! :0)

5:25 PM, March 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just beautiful!
I love how your photos offer a storyline all on their own.

5:40 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Venus ~ Vi said...

Simply just gorgeous♡

The photos are so tantalizing ♥Q♥

6:24 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

C'était un défi bien exécuté de traitement au four :D

7:01 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Jaime said...

wow, what a wonderful story! you did a marvelous job w/the challenge!

7:10 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger marias23 said...

I loved reading your post and your photos are just breathtakingly gorgeous! How awesome that you and Loic can bake together :)

8:16 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Maria, I'm the one baking now, he just eats it these days! We've never baked together, we'd probably step on each others toes!

8:23 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger breadchick said...

I fell in love with your baker's canvas! What a gorgeous story and labor of love on both sides of the Atlantic. Your bread is wonderful.

Thanks so much for joining Sara and I this month and for truly being a Daring Baker.

9:00 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger None said...

tre bien!!! ton pain c'est magificent! and my french is terrible! haha. thanks for the comment! enjoy your delicious bread :)

9:13 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Julie Hession said...

Hi Lucy,

Thank you for your comments on my site! I truly enjoyed my first DB challenge and am looking forward to many more. Your site is absolutely beautiful and very inspiring. Fantastic job on the bread (wasn't it delicious??).



11:16 PM, March 01, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow! What an awesome post. I'm glad that you were able to try the bread that your husband loves. You pictures are beautiful. When were you in Bishkek?

12:22 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Chou said...

Lucy, thanks for sharing your husband's experience moving to the states. I find that after family, food almost always becomes the thing we most strongly identify with our previous experiences, and thus miss the most. On a side note, as a completely computer illiterate person, can you tell me how you mess with your picture sizes? My email is spackysgirl AT hotmail DOT com. Thanks!

1:12 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger jasmine said...

I loved your story and enjoyed your writing. The accompaniments you chose are fabulous.


3:38 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Susan @ SGCC said...

Lucy- Your bread is beautiful and your story is lovely! Your husband sounds like a gem. I love your step by step photos. I always get so caught up in the recipe that, half the time, I forget to take the pictures!

4:11 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Aparna Balasubramanian said...

Your bread (and I enjoyed reading the write up) is so beautiful that I have decided that I shall give this recipe one more try some time.

4:51 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Mandy said...

thanks for sharing the story, and your breads is gorgeous!

6:00 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Peabody said...

I love the use of the potatoes...very clever! Beautiful bread!

10:22 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Deborah said...

I don't think I could get my husband to bake bread, no matter how much he wanted fresh bread in the mornings! Your photos are gorgeous and your finished bread is lovely!

3:58 PM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Joel said...

Beautiful pictures and a great way to serve it. Bravo!

4:20 PM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Meryl said...

You take such beautiful pictures! The bread looks great!

6:04 PM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for coming by!

6:51 PM, March 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the way your bread looks! You did a great job forming the loaves.

10:49 PM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Cookie baker Lynn said...

Your bread is beautiful and I love your process pictures. How wonderful that you now know how to make French bread whether you need to or not.

4:35 AM, March 03, 2008  
Blogger Princess of the kitchen said...

Your bread looks completely wonderful. What a great crust and i love the photos. Thanks for your comments too.

5:24 AM, March 03, 2008  
Blogger Sara said...

Great post, great pictures, great bread!

5:56 AM, March 03, 2008  
Blogger Carla said...

Stunning bread and great pictures!

8:15 PM, March 04, 2008  
Blogger Michelle said...

There is nothing more rewarding, to me, than baking my own bread, and I never find time to do it any more, but this has certainly inspired me to get baking again.
Love the big white bowl with the pour spout in the pic. Wonder where I could find one of those in the states?

11:16 PM, March 04, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Michelle, I believe that bowl came as part of a 3-bowl set at K-Mart, circa 1999.

11:06 PM, March 05, 2008  
Blogger Alpineberry Mary said...

What a truly wonderful post!

2:53 AM, March 06, 2008  
Blogger Christine said...

Lucy, absolutely incredible post; the "dual" story-line was brilliant and it made the pictures that much more meaningful.

I am in love with your baking equipment!

Christina ~ She Runs, She Eats

7:58 AM, March 06, 2008  

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